Category Archives: usability

Looking under the intranet bonnet

When you buy a brand new car, what is it that impresses you first?  Is it the colour?  Maybe the shape?  Or the style of the interior?  That is what a new intranet can be like; a good design, nice graphics and maybe some dynamic images that catch your eye.

However, what will most likely make you decide to buy is what is under the bonnet.  How reliable is your car?  How comfortable is it for you as the driver or passenger?  How economical will it be to run?  Again, this is what an intranet can be like.

Have you compared a brand new car with a recently launched or re-launched intranet?  There are many similar features you need to consider.  Like a car, you want an intranet that will:

  • perform well every time and be reliable
  • give a great experience and meet or exceed expectations
  • be easy to use with no training needed
  • need minimal maintenance with just routine services
  • give great value for the investment made

People love to see a well-designed site and to use a well-structured intranet but it is the content and applications that are contained within them that will keep people coming back repeatedly to use it. That means people are confident in the integrity and reliability of what they use. How can you achieve that? Using publishing standards that are part of a wider governance framework can make a critical difference.

Publishing standards are the foundation to base your intranet’s user experience on. These standards meet a variety of requirements. They apply to different types of content and tools. If your intranet transforms into a digital workplace applying standards appropriately is critical to maintain that consistency that encourages people to use it.

Over the next few posts, I want to cover these publishing standards.  Please leave me a comment for any you especially want me to cover.

How to succeed with mobile collaboration

On day 2 of the WCMS14 conference I ran a workshop about mobile collaboration. People can help each other or can ask for help to collaborate. Having mobile access means you can do this whenever you need to and not have to wait any more. To achieve this there are four areas to focus on:

  1. Make it easy
  2. Manage it smartly
  3. Technology has to meet business needs
  4. Involve people with mobiles

1. Make it easy

The main point is to create an overall consistent experience for people whatever device they use. With more mobile devices than traditional PCs being sold now, organisations should put the need of mobile people first.
By removing the barriers, mobile users don’t need extra logins to be able to collaborate online. It should also be possible to collaborate while offline and the tool synchronise and update automatically.
Research with mobile users what they need most to help them collaborate online, what experience it needs to be and identify tools with the best adoption rates and understand why.

Manage it smartly

It is important that any governance is built to help people collaborate while mobile and not hinder this aim. By extending existing publishing standards to cover mobile use appropriately you continue with one governance framework. The same applies to roles and responsibilities for content and app owners as well as intranet managers.
The findability of content is critical. Having one search engine that covers all the information architecture helps to achieve this. The decision over whether you have one version of the content or app which is responsive to different designs or different versions for each size screen will depend on the information architecture you develop and on security needs.
How long is it before information become knowledge? Your answer to that will decide whether all your collaborative content stays online and is searchable or is archived after a period of time or inactivity or removed permanently. There are no right or wrong answers but you do have to decide what is best for your organisation.

Technology has to meet business needs

Make sure you have the right solution for the right business requirements. This means being very clear what you need before you start to research the technology that can meet your business needs. It will probably also mean you don’t choose the top solution, partly due to the costs, but also because it provides features and functions that you have no immediate or foreseeable need for.
Any technology for mobile collaboration bought or developed needs to be configurable and shown to work with existing systems and platforms.
You need to consider how many operating systems your organisation will support for the different mobile devices used for mobile collaboration. This needs to cover the issue of BYOD. A balance needs to be struck which may be something like x number of operating systems will be guaranteed to give a good mobile user experience and support y mobile devices. You can choose other mobile devices but you should not expect to be guaranteed a good mobile experience.

Involve people with mobiles

You should not assume what collaboration tools people with mobile devices need. You need to research their needs not just make something accessible from a mobile device and say the experience is good enough.
Involve people at the earliest stage of developing the user experience. As soon as the development is good enough for basic use it should be thrown open to mobile users to test out. They can feedback any problems or improvements that will help them to collaborate better to be acted upon.
A perpetual beta development status can be adopted for the mobile collaboration tools to avoid long delays in improvements, the need for major re-launches. Small, incremental, changes can be made quickly based on clear feedback and involvement from mobile users.
Lastly the testing can be a formal User Acceptance testing approach or more informal and open to anyone with a mobile device to use at any time. The process needs to be transparent and a playground/sandpit available where all development can be tested out. This may need IT to change its approach!

Summary

  1. Remove barriers that prevent adoption
  2. Have one governance framework
  3. Right mobile collaboration tools that meet needs
  4. Involve people who use mobile

 

Improve collaboration to increase employee engagement

This week I will be running a workshop on mobile collaboration at the World Class Mobile and Social-Enabled Enterprises event on 5 and 6 June in Frankfurt, Germany.  While I will be focusing on how to make it easier to collaborate while mobile, this post covers the wider area of collaborating online.  Most importantly how it can increase employee engagement and how that benefits an organisation.

Many people are now very savvy about how they use the internet to share knowledge, build up contacts, help solve a problem.  This especially can apply to new recruits who choose your organisation to work for.

There are four factors you need to consider when improving how people collaborate online that can increase employee engagement:

  • Easy to use tools: remove any barrier that may prevent people using these tools.  If there is one, people tend to use it as a reason not to use it!
  • Improve the culture: make it easy for people to share problems and want to share their knowledge and be recognised for doing this.
  • Change how people work: empower people and allow them to collaborate when they need to – this means considering mobile and remote working rather than always working at one place.
  • The bottom line: be able to measure the benefits to your organisation – increased sales, more productivity, higher customer service.

My first-hand experience at BT and from working with clients is you can increase employee engagement because people want to work for an organisation that values collaboration.  It is your approach which is critical!

You can out more information on how to improve collaboration to increase employee engagement to help you

Valuing information tip 4: finding it more easily

In this series of posts ‘Showing the value of your information’ I help you with tips and advice.  So far I have covered owning content, accredited content and collaborative content.  I now want to cover findability of your content.

By findability I mean how you can make it easier for people to find the information you publish and manage.  Making that difference will show that your content is more valued by anyone finding it.

Headings

Think about the title of your content.  What words or phrases will people be searching for? For your content to be high in the search results you need your title to be clear and meaningful to your intended audience.  Any tags or metadata you add should help people understand your content when they find it.  The aim is to help people find your content more easily and not need extra time and effort to do this.  The sad truth is people rarely do this.

For example the title ‘Is SharePoint good or bad?‘ is clearer compared with ‘Is some Microsoft technology better or worse than average when compared with other publishing tools?’.

jargon

Avoid using jargon such as abbreviations or abridged versions of a word.  Always use the terms most people are familiar with and will recognise when they are searching for your content.

For example when I used to work in BT (a technology company) the term ‘broadband’ was also known as ‘DSL’ by technical people or ‘BT Infinity’ and other product names by Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service people.  Broadband was the common term that was recognised by everyone with other terms associated with it rather than used instead of it.

keywords

Think about the keywords you will be using which best cover the content you will publish.  Use these keywords in your content to help your search engine pick up on them (search engine optimisation – SEO).  The keywords should also be used most frequently by people to find your content.  The more frequently you use a standard term rather than variations of that term, the more likely your content will be ranked higher in the search results.

For example if instead of using the term ‘intranet’ you also used variations such as online environment, content management, accredited content, digital workplace, or inside the firewall, it will not have the same impact or findability (It will also be very confusing and possibly inaccurate too but you get the point I am making!).

So, using these tips helps people to find your content and by doing this add to its value because of the extra thought and effort you have made when publishing it.

Showing the value of your information

I want to help you to show to people using your information how valuable it is.  Information should be something that can be used to help you with your work and be useful to you.

What is it you can do for people to realise your content is of value, it is useful, reliable, and authoritative?  What pitfalls should you avoid so people avoid your information!

It always surprises me when I see other intranets and digital workplaces how poor the management of their information is shown to people who need to use it.  Most of this is down to poor governance but there are other factors that come into play and show people the content is not valued.

There are also good examples of best practice shown with other intranets and digital workplaces which should be shared and adopted more widely.

As people use an increasing variety of ways to find and use information e.g. laptop, tables, smartphone, and the type of information grows e.g  company policy, news article, blog post or discussion thread comment they still need answers to some basic questions:

  1. Why should I use this information?
  2. How can I rely on it for my work?
  3. Who can help me further?
  4. Can it help others?
  5. Will it change in future?

In future posts I will give you tips on what to do/not to do to help you to show how valuable your information is to people who want to use it.  A lot of these will be very simple and obvious steps you should take.

Please leave me a comment with any good examples or gripes you have over problems you experience with information.  I am not the font of all knowledge on this subject and would love to help you to help others. :)

 

Intranet governance first – intranet launch next

I have seen many intranets over the years.  One thing that always makes me sad is when I see a new intranet launched with a great design, clear structure, interesting content……but no or poor governance.

It is sad to see all the time, effort, and money slowly being wasted away as the effects of little or no governance inevitably start to take effect with more and more problems appearing as the weeks go by.

What governance problems?  Where do they appear?  What is their impact?  Well, I’m thinking about these examples:

No owner

There is content published everywhere but no one to contact if you want to find out more or query anything that you have read.  You spend lots of wasted time trying other people and ways to find out who is the right person to speak to.

No review date

You are not sure if the information is still up to date.  It may be a policy, a news article, or a guide to help with a work activity.  You don’t know if it is the current version and no one else seems to know either so again, you waste time trying to check if it can be relied upon.

review date is out of date

Even worse than having no review date can be finding it has been passed and the information is available but could be out of date.  You waste time checking it is still reliable and wonder why it hasn’t been updated or removed.  Maybe your confidence in the integrity of other content drops and you waste more time checking or use other sources?

No last updated INFO

It helps reassure people that a site is active and give them confidence the content is reliable and up to date if a last updated date is shown at the bottom of each page of content whenever it is edited.

feedback

It saves time if you have a standard feature for feedback in the same place on every page.  It means people can easily ask questions, offer extra information, or clarify its use.  Without it, people waste time trying to look for a feedback box, link, or heading.  If there isn’t then people try to use other ways to find out what they need to know and can get dissatisfied with the intranet.

These are just some of the problems poor or no governance can cause when you launch a new intranet or site.  It is possible to have a good, strong, governance in place for your intranet launch for no extra cost or time taken.

To find out how to do this the smart way please contact me.

How to help people to find your content

One of the areas that I get asked for help with is how to make it easier for people using their intranet to find the information they need for their work.

How people are able to find your information or site is critical to how good their experience of it is.  It’s no good having this fantastic source of knowledge on your intranet if no one can find it!

If you are making a major change to your intranet or maybe a smaller improvement to it e.g. launching a new site, it is very wise to test it with some volunteers who can feedback and influence any refinements so it gives the best experience when launched.

One way to help you is to create an information architecture – a structure and menu to help people find their way around your intranet easily – to test with people who could benefit from this new information to be launched.

An online testing tool can take the guesswork out of information architecture and help you check where the right place should be as well as the most suitable headings.

I have found ‘tree testing’ – a usability technique for evaluating the findability of information – is a good way with a simple text version of your intranet structure and hierarchy.  You can also use it to test the structure of a new site to check the content and headings are shown in the best way.

A small amount of funding for online testing can save you the time and effort second guessing where people may expect to find your content.  It will also help people who need to use your information having a better experience.

Can you recommend a tool that has helped you?

Good governance signals right mobile direction

In my previous post in this series on mobile I asked ‘Why you need a mobile strategy‘ and showed that mobile is one of the key drivers for the transformation of intranets into digital workplaces which could become mobile workplaces but progress is patchy.  It is no surprise if I say setting the right direction for your organisation with mobile is critical.  Having some good governance principles helps you to continue in the right way and underpin your strategy.

Mobile governance principles

You need to have the following in place:

  1. A champion who will sponsor your strategy and the direction you take
  2. Stakeholders who represent your organisation’s key business areas and functions with the right decision-making authority
  3. Roles and responsibilities that include meeting the needs of mobile users
  4. Standards for owners of content and tools to follow so mobile devices can easily use these

Mobile standards

You need to have standards consistently but appropriately applied for mobile content and apps.  This may mean a change of focus to how your publishing standards are applied to how content is already used.  I will focus on three standards which are most important to a good mobile experience:

Security

It is critical to protect the intellectual property and commercial interests of your organisation.  It is also important to make the method of accessing content and apps from a mobile device secure and easy to do.  It is no good having several logins with different passwords just to quickly look up a person’s contact details you need to quickly check something with just before you enter a meeting.  People just won’t have the time and patience to follow this method.

But you do need some intelligent software working in the background to ensure you know who is accessing content with a mobile device.  Getting the balance right between these two needs is sometimes delicate to achieve but essential for the benefits of mobile use to be achieved.

BYOD

Bring your own device is increasingly seen as important to employers and employees.  It offers businesses opportunities and productivity benefits if it can be successfully introduced.  It manages the threats from wider security systems by having processes to monitor these.  You need a BYOD policy for mobile devices coming onto the network that may not have been checked.  By a combination of tools to implement it and educating and building trust with employees on how to use mobile devices this can help.

Usability

This is even more important than usual because of the smaller and different screen sizes for mobile devices.  Think about the difference in size of screens between a smartphone, tablet, and laptop.  Yet you will need mobile workers to be able to use the device that is best for their needs.  You need to get your content editors and apps developers to think about mobile first when designing how people need to use their information or apps for their work.  This may be some mind and culture change for some people!

The interface for each device needs to be clean, simple, with any key functionality easy to find and use and unnecessary links, extra content, and functionality stripped out.  Always test with mobile users at each stage of development and before launching to check it will meet their needs.

My last post in this series will focus on the mobile experience.

How to be more productive in a digital workplace

OK, so you now have a digital workplace strategy showing the direction you need to move in; a governance framwework to show who is responsible for what with standards, etc, to give you a fantastic online experience; policies and values that encourage you to use a digital workplace and benefit from them.

Now I will show how you can be more productive using a digital workplace:

Usability

It is critical that the time you use in a digital workplace is not wasted.  That means having clearly labeled information, direct route to the information, able to use the information whatever device (laptop, tablet, smartphone) you have, and be able to edit the information as well as read it.

And it’s not just information, you need to find people who can help you or you want to share some knowledge with.  Having an easy to use people finder helps as well as finding collaborative content in discussion groups with other people with similar needs or interest.

Finally if you are mobile your time is limited.  You need fast access to apps and services you need to use e.g. booking travel, hotel room, invites for meetings, hire care.  The list is long but you need to get to each task in a short time and complete each task quickly.

IT capability

You need to have the right tools and access to gain the full benefits from a digital workplace.  Your organisation needs to fund and provide laptops, smartphones, tablets as well as an internet connection and monitor screens for homeworking.  Having the right choice of devices means you can always use the digital workplace whenever you need to – checking people finder, completing tasks, sharing information.  This means you can be more productive and aim for a better work/life balance.  No more waiting to get to an office before you can do your work.  And with the right device you can do your work better, maybe faster too.

You need reliable access to your digital workplace when you need it.  If your organisation gets it wrong then you probably won’t use the digital workplace so much.  Your IT network needs to be reliable for speed and availability.  If it is frequently down for a hour or so you won’t trust it and become reluctant to use it.  If it is slow then you will vote with your feet and stay in a physical office where you can contact people and work better.

Security

You must be confident you have secure access to your digital workplace.  Your organisation needs to be confident it will not be abused by anyone away from their physical workplaces.  For example if you want to check your pay record online you want 100% confidence only you can do this.  Likewise if you need to access sensitive information online the organisation also needs 100% reassurance only those with the right permissions, like you, can use it.

To be fully productive you need to use these services with confidence about how secure they are in a digital workplace.

Involvement

Your organisation needs to develop and have available the things you need to do your work.  Research will be needed before your digital workplace can be used.  You should be involved and asked questions like:

  • What is the information you need?
  • What applications do you need for your work?
  • What collaborative tools do you to share?
  • Will any device work in your digital workplace?

All of these need to be addressed before you need them.  It may take your organisation time, effort, and money to research fully what is needed.  However it will be seen as an investment in the months afterwards when you start using your digital workplace because it helps you to be more productive.

Please contact me if you need my help or leave a comment on this post.  My next post will cover how the weather can help your digital workplace.

How to govern a digital workplace

In my last post on the digital workplace I talked about how you need a strategy to help you create a great digital workplace.  Remember you’re not just doing this for the sake of it!  Your aim is to demonstrate how it will support your organisation’s strategy and key priorities.

Once you have your strategy agreed you need to build a governance framework to help you to implement and manage your digital workplace.  It is important all your digital workplace is managed to give the maximum benefit to your organisation, individuals and collectively, everyone.  The right level of governance needed will balance the rewards to be gained while avoiding any risks.  That doesn’t come naturally but through you establishing a good governance model.

The aim is to create a great online user experience that encourages people to feel comfortable shifting their how and where they work to a digital workplace.  To do that you need a governance framework that includes:

Ownership

You need to have a governance hierarchy that starts at the top with who is responsible for the digital workplace and flows through to who uses the it to publish, collaborate, complete tasks or just view content.

Who is responsible for developing the strategy, implementing the digital workplace and managing it?  It is difficult for one person to have the knowledge, experience, and authority needed for so many key roles and activities.  Neither is it best for it to be one person.

The best solution is to have a steering group with senior managers from key parts of the business most affected by or have most influence on your digital workplace.  These senior managers should have decision-making authority not someone who has to refer back to his/her line manager and delay matters.

There may be dedicated roles for people responsible for collaboration, ways of working, etc., but they should ultimately report in to the steering group.  You need to avoid competing groups of people implementing conflicting standards, designs, and ways to use the digital workplace.  That gives a confusing and poor experience for anyone using it.

Consistency

You really need a consistent level of governance across your digital workplace.  By consistent I don’t mean the same but what everyone should expect.

People who publish in the digital workplace accredited types of content (policies, news, etc.) need a more rigorous approach is needed than for collaborative content where opinions and views change and require a lighter touch of governance.

People using the digital workplace to view content, complete tasks or share knowledge with each other, expect its look and feel to be similar.  Tools can have minimal branding without great costs or customising.  Features need to encourage you to use them more such as help links, contact points, with easily laid out and functional designs.

Integrating the different parts of the digital workplace is needed so they are seen as being connected and encourage you to use it more and feel comfortable.

Standards

One way to gain consistency is to have standards based on the needs of the organisation, regulation, legal and users.  These can be applied appropriately across the digital workplace depending on their use.  For accredited content (policies and procedures) you will apply all or most standards.  For applications e.g. HR processes, it’s probable that most will apply too.  But for collaborative content e.g. opinions, you will apply a lighter touch.

Alternatively you can create standards that only apply to certain information and applications to meet the purpose people need to use it for.

The aim has to be about getting the balance right.  You don’t have to be too restrictive and stifle innovation and collaboration.  But you can’t to be too loose and inconsistent and risk sensitive information leaking out.  It’s not easy but the right balance is critical.

Integrity

For me, this is the critical goal to aim for.  Are you confident using the information and tools in your digital workplace?  Does it encourage you to use the digital workplace more?

The answer has to be ‘YES!’ to these questions. Having the right governance framework with standards consistently applied and clear roles and responsibilities are vital to a successful digital workplace.

Please contact me if you need my help or leave a comment on this post.  My next post will cover how your digital workplace can engage people more with your organisation.